The conversation started off with Ali stating that everything is predetermined - like pawns on a chessboard. Something is missing in this analogy, I felt. The player whose pawn you are, can be moving you blow-by-blow, or as contingencies and expediencies arise, you are determined but not predetermined. This allows for a certain spontaneity, although it is not your own. Ali insisted though, in response to my casual remarks about long plane journeys - when your hour comes, when your time is up, it's up. Somehow he mentioned Sufism and when I could name Rumi and Hafis he started laughing, "you must have studied the books". The laugh was not amusement, but surprise. My mind however was a blank, I could think of nothing to say about Rumi or Hafis or Sufism except - you have to let those texts work on you, you can't really study or analyse them, you have to think about them without thinking about them. This prompted the following story:
"My great grandfather (or his brother) went to the Imam and said: "I'm a simple man. I can't study everything, but give me something short, a verse which I can memorize and recite." (I recall Ali telling me he can recite much of the Koran by heart.) The Imam gave my great grandfather a verse. You are supposed to recite, when you recite, very often during a period of time, forty days. You recite it as often as you can at one time, maybe two hundred times. Otherwise you live normally. My great grandfather had a well on his land. He sat on the wall of the well looking inside and recited his verse. After he had done this for many days, maybe already forty, the water started to rise in the well and he saw snakes in it and such creatures. He became so terrified, he lost his mind and died shortly afterward."
Ali's interpretation - he was too weak, the prowess of the 'other side' was greater.
I: What is the other side?
Ali: (laughing again) It is the power. Either you gain control of it or it controls you. If the Imam had been stronger than it, he could have pulled my great grandfather back from the brink. But both of them were too weak. At certain times Ali reminded me of someone, especially when he repeated the phrase "what is the right terminology?" - but I couldn't remember who it was.